I spent several hours reading some Brecht stories and trying to figure out how I could use these stories to teach concepts important to lit study. The first thing I want to teach students about literary study is that you actually have to read whatever it is you want to study. It's even better if you read it carefully. But then there are other concepts, and I'd like to get to those.
Then I spent several more hours trying to actually teach the Brecht stories, lit concepts, and so forth, and wanting to express my dissapointment at those who don't read carefully.
Which leads me to my gratitude. I sometimes start out a class asking students what they thought of the reading. And when I do, I DETEST hearing that a student didn't like the reading. The worst is if they don't like it because it's "hard." But I found myself feeling about the Brecht stories that I just don't much like them. It's not that they're hard.
So while I was prepping, I kept imagining how the students would feel these stories are pointless, and how do they fit into the conceptual learning that's the overall point of the class. And then I confronted the problem of how to get us all beyond being blah about these stories, and to a point where we found them useful, and because useful, perhaps, interesting and worth spending our time with. The more I thought about how to teach them, the more interesting the stories got for me.
I went all materialist with them, because, it's Brecht, for gosh sake, and he's all over materialism, and the ways objects mean and such. I made up a handout with some questions about objects and meanings, about representations of material practices, money, and finally asked them to connect the story with two concepts they've discussed so far in the course. They worked in groups on the questions with one story for each group, and then explained what they'd found to the rest of the class using an overhead they'd had time to prepare. It wasn't the most scintillating and exciting class ever, but at least the students felt some pressure to talk about their story, and the ones who'd read well stood out. It showed. But even the ones who hadn't read well had time to dig themselves out a little with regard to their one story. Everyone contributed at least a little.
Then I had them do a little writing, to get them thinking a little reflectively.
And that leads me to my gratitude. Were I a high school teacher, I'd have to teach texts mandated by the system or school for different levels pretty much. No, I'm sure no one teaches Brecht at all (more's the pity!), but I would be a seriously unhappy Bardiac if I had to teach Hemingway, say, or Dickens.
Yesterday, I turned from teaching this class to teaching another where we're reading Gawain, and felt my spirits lift. The students, as they almost inevitably do, were excited by the story, confused, interested, challenged, and so was I.
So, I'm grateful to be able to pretty much teach texts that fascinate and challenge me, in ways I find exciting and useful.
And I'm grateful to have ten down, and five to go!